John W. Hilton 1904-1983

The life of John W. Hilton was extraordinary.

He was born in China, the son of missionaries, was raised as a pastor’s kid in the American heartland, and then set his course in life on his own terms unencumbered by formal education.

Driven by a deep sense of curiosity, he became an expert gemologist, botanist, geologist and miner, zoologist, advisor to General George S. Patton, friend and fellow painter of General / President Eisenhower, master of guitar and song, a very good writer, and of course, he wasn’t bad with a palette knife or paint brush either.

John W. Hilton made his home in the Mohave Desert, living near but never actually in Palm Springs. He preferred the desert. Early in his career, he ran an off-the-beaten-path gem shop and gallery across the road from his landlord Russell, who sold date shakes at his “Valerie Jean’s” Date stand. Part of the deal was John could run his gem shop as long as he didn’t sell date shakes.

With a date shake in hand, desert travelers would stroll across the road and into John’s gem shop. Some showed interest in a few of his displayed artworks, and some of the more artsy visitors helped advance John’s painting talents.


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